Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises

4.5

Courtesy of Warner Bros./ Legendary Pictures

There are films that are blockbuster hits and then there are films that permeate popular culture. Even greater than that, there are characters and properties that are so entrenched in the culture that they become icons. Batman is an American (if not global) icon. Seven years ago, Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman with the first chapter in his Dark Knight Legend with the 2005 film Batman Begins. Then in 2008 Nolan followed up with the genre-defining and global dominating The Dark Knight. Now, after four years of waiting and expectation build-up, we finally receive the final chapter in what could be the definitive Batman saga. The Dark Knight Rises. One of the most anticipated films in recent memory now has to stand up to the hype.

It has been eight years since Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent’s death and crimes and the “caped crusader” has since gone into hiding. In shelving his hero alter ego, Bruce Wayne, himself, has become a recluse and distanced himself from the outside world. Gotham has experienced a great period of peace since Dent’s death, but a greater evil than has ever been seen is boiling under the city in the form of the radical terrorist, Bane. Once he rises to the surface, Bane and his true motives are revealed and Batman is called upon again to save the Gotham City from despair and total destruction.

I have to say that I appreciate the leap in time from The Dark Knight as it helps to give the saga greater scale. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are within two years of each other on the timeline and forging ahead eight years gives Bruce’s career more depth. That being said, the jump in time means that there is a lot of catching up to do for the audience. Nolan is taxed with bringing the audience up to speed with the goings-on in Gotham all within the first act. The result is what feels like a flurry of details and new characters being thrown at the story all at once and causes some head-spinning to occur. It is only natural that more characters would be entered into Nolan’s universe, but characters such as Daggett (Animal Kingdom’s Ben Mendelsohn), Foley (Matthew Modine of late-80s fame), and Miranda Tate (Oscar winner, Marion Cotillard) are sort of thrust into the narrative without any foundation. Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), and Bane (Tom Hardy) are the other new additions but they are given enough screen time to flesh out their motives and personalities.

Screen time. Screen time is major economy of this film. With several new characters added to the mix of returnees, Nolan and his writers had to be judicious with how they passed out the screen time. The film has a running time that settles around 165 minutes, which isn’t a small number by any stretch, but it’s amazing how quickly that time can go. As was the case with the previous chapter The Dark Knight, the film ends up being less centered on Bruce Wayne/Batman and more about everyone involved in that particular chapter. Some people may gripe that we don’t see enough of Batman, but to be honest I feel that the Bat’s scarce presence actually makes his time on-screen that much more fulfilling and worthwhile. It makes every action sequence that much more satisfying. And there is no need to fret as the Batman is in action at multiple points in the film.

Where the screen time-strain rears its ugly head is in character development. The well-established characters have cultivated certain depth prior to this installment, so their development isn’t so much an issue. Miranda Tate has the most limited development amongst the more important players. For a character that ultimately means a great deal to the narrative, she is pretty much a non-factor for the majority of the film which may cause her actions in the final act to catch the unaccustomed to be caught off-guard. Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake is a likeable character with believable motives, but his entrance into the life of Bruce Wayne seemed forced.  It comes off as being a bit too convenient.

Courtesy of Warner Bros./ Legendary Pictures

The cast, on paper, has to be one of the most impressive ensembles assembled in my lifetime. Among them you have 5 Oscars and 16 Oscar nominations (Oscars aren’t everything, but that is still impressive).  We have seen the majority of this cast play their roles twice before, and the veterans step back in without missing a beat. My interest was with the newcomers to the series: Tom Hardy as Bane, Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake.

Anne Hathaway is an absolute joy as Selina Kyle and steals the show at various points. She has always possessed an undervalued sexiness about her and she completely unleashes it in TDKR. Not only is she easy on the eyes, but she is also able to enact some glorious butt kicking of her own. Though the story doesn’t bring us great depth to Selina Kyle, Hathaway’s talent brings out much more than the lines written on the page.

Courtesy of Warner Bros./ Legendary Pictures

Tom Hardy is supremely talented actor who may not be too familiar to American audiences. I am a fan of his prior work and was elated to hear that he was to be cast as the imposing Bane (who much like Hardy himself is not recognizable to the mass audience). In playing the main protagonist in this film, Hardy inherited the unenviable task of being the successor to Heath Ledger’s Joker from TDK. Though his performance won’t be quite as remembered as Ledger’s, Tom Hardy still brings in a superb performance. Bane is a character that is supposed to match Batman in intellect, strategy, and brawn and Hardy was able to translate just that. I would have preferred a little more screen time for him and maybe an origin, but what we are given is fine.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard are two more great actors that do fine in their roles, though neither does anything that hasn’t been seen their in past films. Their characters are rather one-note for the first two acts and then open up more in the third act but their talent levels allow them to form-fit to this increase in importance.

If you have seen any of Christopher Nolan’s films since Memento, then you should be accustomed to the cinematography of Wally Pfister. Pfister has been key to Nolan’s visionary style and his stellar work continues in The Dark Knight. The use of IMAX 70mm film began with The Dark Knight and brought a level of spectacle that really could not be seen in any other narrative film. In The Dark Knight Rises the 70mm IMAX footage has been increased to an hour. Seriously, if you have the option to see this film on a 70mm projector, you should take advantage of the opportunity.

Nolan is not a fan of heavy use of CGI and instead prefers to use practical effects as much as possible. Digital effects are obviously used in the film, but it aids the practical effects as opposed to being the backbone of the more grandiose moments. There also appears to be less frantically edited fighting sequences. I have voiced my displeasure for nauseating action sequences in the past and Nolan’s Batman films have been culprits. This isn’t so much the case in TDKR. Fighting sequences seemed to be better choreographed and allowed to play out in longer cuts.

Overall, The Dark Knight Rises is a stunningly shot and well-edited film that stands up if not exceeds its contemporaries in the visual department.

Courtesy of Warner Bros./ Legendary Pictures

With The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan finishes his Dark Knight Trilogy with not just a bang, but a massive explosion. The theme of the entire trilogy has been “escalation,” and that theme could be used to describe the blueprint that Nolan and his team have followed in the production of the three films. Each film has brought larger thrills and higher stakes with the pinnacle being The Dark Knight Rises.

The greatest question asked about this film is: how does it stand up to The Dark Knight? Though I feel the question itself is a bit unfair, it is warranted. The task of exceeding the unprecedented greatness of TDK was a daunting and nearly unreasonable goal for Nolan and I don’t believe that he set out to accomplish that. He set out to cap off his trilogy with an epic final chapter and he succeeds.

But enough dancing around.

The Dark Knight Rises is not as great as The Dark Knight. At points in the film, it gets close to matching but never actually does. But don’t take this as a knock on the film. I am going to pause for a moment and use a baseball analogy (for those not accustomed to aspects of the sport, please feel free to Google the key terms). The Dark Knight was Christopher Nolan’s “perfect game” : everything aligned properly and allowed him to craft a perfect film experience. The Dark Knight Rises is a “no-hitter.” It isn’t a “perfect game,” but it’s still a unique and masterful feat. What TDKR gives us is an emotional, action-packed, bittersweet ending to The Dark Knight Legend.

The Dark Knight Rises does a great job of closing out Nolan’s Dark Knight Legend. It brings the whole trilogy to realization and ties everything together nicely. Aspects of Batman Begins find marriage with aspects of The Dark Knight and we can see Nolan’s vision come to fruition. Rare is it, in this day and age, for a director to see his franchise through from its inception (pun intended) to its terminus. Nolan was able to give us one of the greatest sagas in film history as well as set the gold standard for what we should expect from DC films to come.

Thank you, Christopher Nolan for giving us a definitive Batman trilogy.

For long-time fans and Batman novices alike, this is a film experience you should not pass up. I suggest brushing up on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight before viewing.

Rating: That’s Ult!